A reflection on Bangladesh-ICIMOD partnership

by Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura and Golam Rasul
Women are more involved in small-scale agriculture than men in Bangladesh. — ICIMOD/Alex Treadway

Women are more involved in small-scale agriculture than men in Bangladesh. — ICIMOD/Alex Treadway

THE International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development is a regional inter-governmental organisation established in 1983 by the eight countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Its dual mandate is to improve the environment of the hills and mountains and the lives of mountain people in the region, as well as in the river basins downstream. With its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, ICIMOD serves the region by generating mountain-specific knowledge, sharing information, and fostering regional cooperation to find innovative solutions to the region’s problems.
Bangladesh is one of the founding members of ICIMOD and has supported and participated in ICIMOD activities since its inception. The partnership between Bangladesh and ICIMOD has grown, particularly since the establishment of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry in 1998, which is the focal ministry for ICIMOD in Bangladesh. The ministry represents the Bangladesh government on ICIMOD’s board of governors, the centre’s highest policy -making body.
The Bangladesh-ICIMOD collaboration covers a broad range of activities from knowledge sharing to income generation, livelihood improvement including shifting cultivation, watershed management, disaster risk reduction, adaptation to climate change, capacity building and skills development in many sectors including space applications and hydro-meteorological monitoring, and regional cooperation. ICIMOD’s engagement in Bangladesh is both strategic and programmatic. At the strategic level, ICIMOD engages with key organisations on strategic issues of importance to Bangladesh. At the programmatic level, it brings regional knowledge and expertise to bear on hill and mountain issues in Bangladesh to find solutions to problems in collaboration with national partners.
To strengthen ICIMOD’s engagement in Bangladesh, the ministry and ICIMOD are organising Bangladesh-ICIMOD partnership day in Dhaka today. The event will be attended by ICIMOD’s key partners and stakeholders in Bangladesh including the Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry and other government agencies, research organisations, academia, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector.
One of ICIMOD’s successful strategic engagements with the ministry has been the recent development of ‘A Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh’, which recognises the geographic, cultural, and social specificities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and outlines its unique potential. It also identifies the actions and mechanisms needed to seize opportunities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in an inclusive manner. As part of these efforts, ICIMOD worked with the Planning Commission to incorporate a hill perspective in Bangladesh’s Seventh Five-Year Plan. The framework formed the basis for multi-stakeholder consultations and the development of recommendations for the Seventh Five-Year Plan, most of which have now been incorporated in the plan.
Another area of strategic engagement is ICIMOD’s support of the Bangladesh government to improve flood and water management. Most of Bangladesh is located within the floodplains of three great rivers: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, and their tributaries. As a lower riparian country, Bangladesh is prone to flooding and other water-related disasters. Hence, real-time data and information from upstream countries are critical for Bangladesh to develop flood forecasting and early warning systems, and for water resource management in general. ICIMOD and its partners in Bangladesh are working to establish a regional flood information system to facilitate the timely exchange of flood data and information. It is hoped that this will strengthen regional cooperation in the management of floods and other natural disasters. ICIMOD is also looking for opportunities to facilitate transboundary cooperation between Bangladesh and India and Bangladesh and Myanmar using the landscape approach to ecosystem management.
At the programmatic level, ICIMOD collaborates with a number agencies to generate income and promote livelihoods options, manage watersheds, facilitate flood preparation and disaster risk reduction, protect the environment, as well as share knowledge and strengthen capacity. At programmatic level, the initial focus was on the management of watersheds, conservation of soil and water, promotion of  agricultural technologies in shifting cultivation areas, and building capacities on GIS and remote sensing. As the majority of people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are subsistence farmers and have little cash income, the scope of ICIMOD’s work has been broadened over the years to promote alternative livelihood options, both farm and non-farm, through value chain development, increased market access, and tourism development. Mushrooms, high-value medicinal plants, and bee-keeping are a few of the value chains that ICIMOD promotes. Realising the potential of tourism in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, ICIMOD recently partnered with the Bandarban hill district council to initiate the rural livelihoods and climate change adaptation (Himalica) initiative, which focuses on inclusive tourism by involving local communities in tourism development. Efforts are also ongoing to improve the livelihoods of shifting cultivators by providing alternative livelihood options.
To improve flood preparedness and flood management, ICIMOD is collaborating with the national partners to assess, predict, and develop effective and timely early warning systems. Towards strengthening flood preparedness, a few automatic weather stations have been installed for real-time data. Initiative has also been taken to assess the vulnerabilities and identify options for adaptation to climate change to help poor and marginalised people to cope with climate and other changes happening in the region.
ICIMOD actively promotes cross-country learning, and regional knowledge and experience sharing in relation to policies, good practices, and science. ICIMOD is working with national partners in strengthening their capacity on GIS and remote sensing, satellite rainfall estimation, flood forecasting, watershed management, disaster risk management, value chain development, and eco-tourism to strengthen institutional capacity to address the emerging challenges.
Bangladesh-ICIMOD partnership day is a further step forward in the strategic partnership between Bangladesh and ICIMOD. It will help to reflect on the key aspects of the Bangladesh-ICIMOD partnership, strengthen the relationship, and allow the exploration of emerging opportunities for future collaboration on new issues such as the sustainable development goals and action for adaptation and mitigation in line with the Paris agreement. It is hoped that it will help identify effective strategies for translating vision into action for the sustainable development of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. ICIMOD looks forward to working closely with its partners in Bangladesh in 2016 and beyond.
Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura is secretary, Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry and chair of the ICIMOD board of governors. Golam Rasul is a senior economist and theme leader livelihood at ICIMOD and focal point of ICIMOD for Bangladesh.

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